My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Best of The Blunt Bean Counter - Legacy Stocks - To Sell or Not Sell? That is the Question?

This summer I am posting the "best of" The Blunt Bean Counter blog while I work on my golf game. Today, I am re-posting a March, 2017 blog on whether to sell Legacy stock positions. People are often frozen into "in-action" because of the tax consequences of selling a legacy position, especially where you have a large unrealized capital gain.

Legacy Stocks - To Sell or Not Sell? That is the Question?

Some people, typically seniors/baby boomers have owned stocks for decades, either through direct purchase or an inheritance of some kind (stocks transferred from a deceased spouse pursuant to their will generally have an adjusted cost base equal to what the deceased spouse originally paid for the shares; shares inherited from a parent or grandparent will generally have a cost base equal to the fair market value on the day of inheritance). These stocks are commonly known as Legacy Stocks; more often than not, they will include shares of Bell Canada, the Canadian bank(s) and/or insurance companies.

In early 2017,  Rob Carrick, The Globe and Mail’s excellent personal finance columnist  mentioned to me that several of his readers had asked him about selling their legacy stocks (or as more typically is the case, not selling their legacy stocks). I told him I thought the issue would make a good blog topic and asked him if he was okay with me using his idea to write a post. He gave me his blessing, so today I am writing about the issues and considerations for those of you holding legacy stocks and similar type securities.

The Common Quandary

The issue with selling legacy stocks is that they:

1. Typically have huge unrealized capital gains and thus the sale of these stocks creates a large tax bill

2. The realization of the capital gain can result in a clawback of Old Age Security ("OAS"), which seniors are loathe to ever repay

I know some readers, especially my millennial readers are thinking to themselves “Is Mark really going to write about minimizing the large capital gains of baby boomers that have already benefited from the huge increases in real estate? Cry me a river that they owe some tax.” The answer is yes, since a tax issue is a tax issue and this blog, although meant for everyone, is targeted to high-net-worth individuals and owners of private corporations.

There Is No One Size Fits All Answer

If you have a legacy stock(s) you are considering selling, there is not a standard “one size fits all” answer. There are various investment and income tax considerations. I discuss these issues and considerations below.

Capital Gains Rates

The marginal tax rate for capital gains in Ontario for income in the $45-$75k range is approximately 12-15%. This rate jumps to 19-22% or so between $90-$140k in taxable income and hits 26.8% once your taxable income exceeds $220,000.

Capital gains rates are the lowest tax rates you get in Canada. So from my perspective, the taxes you would pay from the sale of a legacy stock should not be the determinant in deciding to sell. The key factor (subject to the discussion below) should always be what the best investment decision is. Watching a stock drop 15%, to save 20% in capital gains tax, makes absolutely no sense, when viewed in isolation.

There has been concern the last few years that the Federal government may change the taxable inclusion amount of a capital gain from 1/2 to 2/3 or even 3/4. However, as this is only conjecture, if you were to sell for this reason only, you would be accelerating your tax payable.

Old Age Security Clawback

As noted above, the capital gains tax tail should not wag the tax dog. However, there is one issue that complicates the matter for seniors and that is the Old Age Security Clawback.

As evidenced by many accountants’ scars and wounds, never cause even the sweetest senior to have an OAS claw back, because all hell breaks loose :). I am only half-joking; seniors really resent having their OAS clawed back. I assume it is because they feel they have an entitlement to this money and the government does not have the right to claim all or some portion back (even though, they did not directly fund this program).

Seniors must pay back all or a portion of their OAS as well as any net federal supplements if their annual income exceeds a certain amount. For 2017, if your net income before adjustments is greater than $74,789 ($73,756 for 2016) then you will have to repay 15% of the excess over this amount, to a maximum of the total amount of OAS received. The maximum repayment is hit around $119,000.

So if you have a capital gain on a legacy stock of $90,000 ($45k taxable) and you are right at the $74,789 OAS limit before the capital gain, the tax cost of the capital gain would be around $15,000 or 17% of the $90,000 gain. However, when you add the OAS clawback that would be applicable, the combined tax and OAS clawback could approach $22,000 or 25% or so. That is why you cannot look at the gain in isolation.

If you do not have an investment reason to sell your stock, you may want to consider selling the stock over a few years to minimize the tax and OAS clawback, assuming you wish to keep the stock each year.

Holding Company

A “sexier” alternative, especially for seniors is to transfer your stocks to a holding company. You should be able to do this on a tax-free basis under Section 85 of the Income Tax Act. The benefit to doing this is any dividends earned and the eventual capital gain are taxed in the holding company and thus, do not affect your OAS clawback. In addition, if you have any potential U.S. estate tax exposure (see this prior blog post on estate tax), the U.S. stocks in your holding company will not be subject to U.S. estate tax if there is estate tax in place at the time of your passing (estate tax is a U.S. political issue that keeps changing depending upon the party in charge). So while you do not save any actual income tax, you can save your OAS from being clawed back and possibly gain some U.S. estate protection.

The downside to this strategy is the cost to transfer the stocks (legal and accounting) and ongoing accounting costs, which can be high for a holding company and thus, potentially a significant part of the OAS clawback savings is now paid to your accountant instead of the government, so you have to weigh the savings versus the costs.

Capital Losses

If you plan on triggering capital gains on legacy stocks, you should review if you have any capital losses you can apply against these gains. The CRA notes your capital loss carryforward balance on your notice of assessment and if you have a My CRA account, you can get this information online. It should be noted, the application of the losses only reduce the capital gains tax, not the OAS clawback.

Charitable Donation

Where you donate public securities to a registered charity, the capital gains inclusion rate is set to zero. Thus, there would be no capital gain to report on the donation of a legacy stock (have your accountant run the numbers, but this should minimize or eliminate the clawback) and you receive a donation credit. This is reported on Form T1170 . This strategy is effective if you make large donations every year or were planning to make a substantial donation and helps the charity since you have more funds to donate than with an after-tax donation.

The decision to sell a legacy stock is not a simple one. The overriding decision should still be an investment decision; however, where you are indifferent to selling, you need to consider the various issues and options I have noted above. Before undertaking any legacy stock selling, you should consult your investment advisor and possibly your accountant.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation. Please note the blog post is time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

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